Elbow fracture

The elbow is the joint between the upper arm bone (humerus) and the forearm bones (radius and ulna). A fractured elbow means that one of these bones has broken near the elbow joint. A fractured elbow can occur from falling on an outstretched arm, directly hitting the elbow, or forcefully using the elbow like a lever to move or lift something. Fractures may be closed (the broken bone does not break through the skin) or open (the skin is broken over the fracture site and the bone may poke through the skin, or bone may be visible in the wound). Sprains, strains, or dislocations may occur at the same time as a fracture.

Symptoms of a fractured elbow may include:

  • A snap or pop felt or heard at the time of the injury.
  • Pain that is likely to increase with arm movement or pressure applied to the area.
  • A grating sound or feeling with movement of or pressure on the injured arm.
  • An elbow that looks misshapen or out of its normal position (deformed).
  • Changes in feeling, such as numbness or tingling, in the elbow, forearm, or hand.
  • Cool, pale, or blue skin on the elbow, forearm, or hand.
  • A decreased pulse or no pulse at the wrist.
  • Swelling and bruising that appears within 30 minutes of the injury.
  • A feeling of looseness or instability at the elbow.
  • Decreased ability or inability to move the arm (not because of pain).
  • A bone poking through the skin or visible in a wound.

Recovery time for a fracture can vary depending on a person's age and health and the type and severity of the fracture. A minor break in children may heal completely in a few weeks, while a serious fracture in an older person may require months to heal.

Initial medical treatment may include:

  • Immobilizing the injured arm with a cast, splint, or wrap.
  • Applying ice.
  • Taking anti-inflammatory medications to reduce pain and swelling.

Later, physical therapy may be done to help the person strengthen the muscles around the elbow and regain arm motion.

Many elbow fractures may need surgery so that the elbow heals without any loss of function.

If a fracture is untreated, the result can be long-term pain, decreased arm movement and strength, and a misshapen joint.

Last Updated: February 19, 2009

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